Restaurant Review – Wildfire (in Niagara Falls)

This weekend I went to visit Niagara Falls for a family get-together, and ended up at a newly renovated restaurant called Wildfire Grill House & Lounge. (6788 Thorold Stone Road, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 905-356-3473). Apparently this is somewhat of a restaurant chain (with another location in St. Catherines), but I don’t think is associated with a chain of restaurants by the same name in the United States.

Their menu is fairly broad – from pizzas all the way to steak and seafood. I’d rate the atmosphere and menu along the lines of The Keg. It’s definitely not fancy dining, but upscale in terms of chain restaurants and prices.

We went on a Sunday night at around 6 pm and the restaurant was nearly empty. We also had a party of 3 children. There was no kids menu but they did have kiddie pizzas or kiddie pasta as options.

Since more of the lower end menu choices involved gluten (pizzas, pastas, etc.) I ended up asking about the Prime Rib with Crab Legs. It was $42.95 – yes, quite steep. (It was really the crab that pushed it up into the 40’s, since the Prime Rib alone was much less…but I’m a sucker for good crab).

It was obvious that the waitress had never heard of Celiac disease, but she did apparently talk to the chef to make sure my meal would be safe. As I expected, it turns out that the jus for the prime rib was not gluten-free so she recommended against the whole dish. I ended up with a filet mignon, which cost more money. I wasn’t willing to give up on the crab – so my dish was $47.95. Right out – yes, that’s expensive. For a high end restaurant with a unique atmosphere…maybe. But for a restaurant somewhat equivalent to The Keg, it was quite over the top for price.

The waitress asked me if I wanted rice or baked potato, and since I always end up with potato, I thought I’d inquire about the rice dish. The waitress said it was wild rice and probably would be fine, but I asked if she could check with the chef anyway in case it was cooked in non-GF chicken broth, which is common in restaurants. I said if rice wasn’t gluten-free, then the potato would do.

Because of the price and my worry for such a big meal (steak & seafood), I bowed out gracefully on appetizers.

When the meal came I ended up getting the potato, meaning the rice was likely not gluten-free, or the waitress forgot. The meal wasn’t as large as expected, but still was plenty of food. Although the food was decent, the crab was not worth the money. It wasn’t really fishy, but it didn’t really have that sweet taste that good crab can have. In a way, it really didn’t taste like anything. I guess it’s hard to expect much from a restaurant chain claiming to be a ‘grill house’, but like I mentioned, I am a sucker for good carb.

The 8 oz steak was good, but its bacon wrapping (almost the best part!) wasn’t superb. The potato came with just butter, and a selection of toppings served table-side.

All in all, the food was decent, but not for the price. An equivalent meal at The Keg would have probably been about $10 less; or I would have expected much better preparation. And even though the waitress hadn’t heard of Celiac disease, she did seem to do her homework with the chef.

Would I return? Perhaps. But no seafood next time.

Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5
Celiac friendly: 3 out of 5
Value: 2 out of 5

Kitchener-Waterloo’s Worst Restaurants for Celiacs

Well, I’ve mentioned my favourite restaurants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. But which ones should you avoid? Here are Kitchener-Waterloo’s worst restaurants when it comes to gluten-free options.

  1. East Side Marios – what a disaster. There’s almost nothing on the menu that is gluten-free. The last time I went for lunch, I had a chicken salad, hold the marinade on the chicken, and hold the dressing. (yes, that tasty salad dressing they have is NOT gluten-free). So basically it was plain chicken on a bed of lettuce. My mother (who also has Celiac disease) went to another East Side Marios, ordered a simple steak and got sick. Not cool.
  2. Boston Pizza – along the same lines as East Sides. I think the only thing on the menu that’s gluten-free are their ribs, which are not very good. If you want ribs, try Montanas as their Texas Bold BBQ Sauce is gluten-free.
  3. Kelsey’s – is along the same lines as East Side Marios. I ended up with a salmon salad, with oil and vinegar dressing.
  4. Barley Works at the Huether Hotel – when I asked the waitress about gluten-free options (after an explanation of what it meant to be gluten-free), she chuckled and said: “Good luck”. She was nice enough mind you, and checked with the kitchen staff – but in the end she told me that pretty much the whole kitchen is based around wheat. The end result? A very plain steak without spices or marinade, with boiled vegetables (broccoli, carrots and cauliflower – yuck). At least they tried, but I wouldn’t go back.
  5. Tim Hortons – I wouldn’t really expect much, but being such a large chain and so prominent in Ontario, I’d expect at least something on the menu for Celiacs (well, besides coffee of course!). Even chili at Wendy’s is gluten-free, but not at Tim Hortons.

Seems like a pretty common thread: low-cost dining and pub food is tough for Celiacs. Although I’m not surprised, it’s such a shame because you can make many simple foods without wheat and have them taste good. And with so many people suffering from Celiac disease, you would think that these large restaurant chains would start thinking about more gluten-free options.

But besides Tim Hortons and other obvious ones like pizza places, many fast food restaurants have options that are gluten-free.

  • Wendy’s – chili and salads (taco salad)
  • Harvey’s – some salads
  • Subway – salads
  • McDonalds – fries, hamburger patties, salads

Have your own ‘worst’ restaurant? Feel free to post your own comments.

Kitchener-Waterloo’s Best Restaurants for Celiacs

Here are my current favourite restaurants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. These restaurants have many gluten free options and seem to know a lot about how to serve a good meal that is gluten-free.

  1. Charbries (http://www.charbries.com/index.html) – The food, service and atmosphere is top notch here. They seem very knowledgeable about Celiac disease, and the last few times I’ve visited there they’ve mentioned they have a staff member with Celiac disease. Their caesar salad (prepared table-side) is wonderful – just ask them to make it without the croutons and Worcestershire sauce (which contains malt). Their main dishes are all outstanding, and most can be custom made to be gluten-free if they aren’t already. Leave room for dessert – home made ice creams or creme brulee. With a new menu every season, you can always find a reason to visit Charbries.
  2. Verses Restaurant (http://www.versesrestaurant.ca/) – Well, I just wrote a post about their amazing gluten-free bread, and just for that they deserve to be in this list!
  3. Del Dente’s (http://www.charcoalsteakhouse.ca/deldente.html)- At Del Dente’s, all orders are made from scratch. I went with a party of 4 individuals and get this: one had Celiac disease (that’s me), one had an allergy to garlic, and one had an allergy to nuts. They must have thought we were part of some strange allergy convention or something. Anyway, they catered to all of us, and none of us got sick. The food was also very tasty.
  4. The Keg – Ok, so I’m a sucker for steak. I’ve heard rumours that the Keg ‘dusts’ their steaks with flour, but the Waterloo Keg on Northfield Ave does not. The last time I was there, my server had Celiac disease and we looked at the ingredients in the caeasar salad dressing and there was no gluten. Just ask them to make the salad in a new bowl, so you don’t get contamination with croutons from someone else’s order. The steak is obviously the highlight, but add some crab or lobster and enjoy the feast.

Well, those are my favourites. Please feel free to leave a comment with your own favourites! And as always, don’t forget to ask your server whether your choices are indeed gluten-free, as staff and preparation techniques are always changing.

Verses Restaurant (Amazing gluten-free bread)

A few weeks ago, I went to Verses as part of Kitchener-Waterloo’s Summerlicious. Most high end restaurants know about Celiac disease and the importance of a gluten-free diet. Verses was no exception – the service was wonderful and the food was great.

However the real highlight for me was their gluten-free bread. Most restaurants serve bread at the beginning of a meal, but I can’t think of too many restaurants that offer gluten-free bread for their Celiac customers. Verses goes the extra mile and has gluten-free bread!

And here’s the kicker: I’ve never had gluten-free bread that tastes this good. It was absolutely incredible! It was a cheese bread, and didn’t taste at all like any other gluten-free breads I’ve ever tried. It didn’t fall apart, had good texture, and really just tasted like ‘normal’ fresh bread. Quite amazing.

After asking the manager about it, she informed me that it’s made by a lady at the Kitchener market. I haven’t investigated more since, but I plan to.

In the mean time, if you know any more information about this lady at the market, feel free to leave a comment.

For more information about Verses, see http://www.versesrestaurant.ca. I would highly recommend this restaurant.

Restaurants You Thought You Couldn’t Eat At

Here are a few restaurants in Waterloo, Ontario that I never would have imagined I could eat at being on a gluten-free diet.

Although some of these I frequent often, it’s always important to mention to your server that you have Celiac disease and that you need to have a meal without any gluten. Recipes, techniques or kitchen personelle can change at any time.

Feel free to comment on this list if you have any favourite restaurants or good tips!

  1. Bakers Cove Seafood Restaurant – I believe the owner has a friend that is a Celiac, and is well versed in preparation techniques to avoid contamination. Although I’m a sucker for good french fries (and they cook them in a separate fryer from the breaded fish), their grilled fish sprinkled with rice flour is incredible as well. Fish and chips for a Celiac – gotta love it. (www.bakerscoveseafood.ca/)
  2. Ennios Pasta House – Last time I was there my server was a Celiac as well! They may not mention this on their menu (I can’t quite remember), but they do indeed have rice noodles so many of their pasta dishes can be modified to be gluten-free. Ask them to make the sauce from scratch – I had the alfredo last time I was there and they prepared it without wheat flour.
  3. Mongolian Grill – if you ask your server, they will give you a list of all the sauces that do and don’t contain wheat-related products. Also, when you go up to fry your creation, mention to the cook that you are allergic to wheat products and they’ll clean the grill area for your stir fry very well, and take extra precautions against contamination from other meals around you. There is always a risk of contamination at restaurants like this, but I definitely have been impressed with their effort.
  4. Subway – Often I need a quick meal, and some of Subway’s salads are indeed gluten-free. I’ve researched their ingredients and the Subway Club salad and Subway Melt salad (including the Kraft dressing packets) are gluten free. Depending on the Subway you go to, they can be very clean and will change their gloves and knives for you if you mention it to them. The Subway in Uptown Waterloo is one I frequent regularly.
  5. McDonalds – Ok, this isn’t a “Best of Waterloo” series (wait for an upcoming post), but again if you need a fast food fix McDonalds does have some options for you. The meat patties are gluten-free (so you can order a burger without the bun) and the fries are cooked in a separate fryer as well. Now whether you want to go to McD’s is another topic altogether…

Ok, that’s it for now. More to come soon!

Welcome to SafeCeliac

Welcome to SafeCeliac – the place to find information about restaurants for individuals on a gluten-free diet.

I was diagnosed with Celiac disease in 2003, and have found one of the most challenging aspects is eating out. Many restaurants don’t have gluten-free options, or don’t know much about making gluten-free dishes that are palatable.

However, when a restaurant does provide a gluten-free meal that tastes great (and also comes with a dessert!), it’s such a great dining experience.

So – this site is targeted towards reviewing restaurants…but not in the traditional sense. SafeCeliac is tailored towards individuals with Celiac disease, so restaurants are reviewed based not only on the quality of food, but the knowledge of the staff about the gluten-free diet, the menu and its respective gluten-free options, and the ability for the restaurant to tailor dishes to meet a gluten-free diet.

I’m based out of the Kitchener-Waterloo area, so most of the reviews here are from this area. (Although I do often travel outside this region, especially to the Greater Toronto Area)

Please feel free to leave comments related to your experiences as well!